The Polish film Werewolf (original title Wilkolak) shows how credible horror can be achieved on film - Hollywood could learn a thing or two but probably wouldn't be interested
Your standard Hollywood horror film in recent years is brain-dead pap which requires no thought on the part of the viewer, quite aside from the fact that very little thought has gone into the film anyway on the part of its makers. 'Thought', eh, what’s that? It's more about pressing the dumbest buttons and, of course, these guys are smart enough to know that this is what goes down well.
The fact that it 'goes down well' is of no consequence. As a rule, lazy clichés and gratuitous loud noises abound to compensate for paucity of plot. The default location is suburbia, Anywheresville, USA. Ethan Hawke manfully sees off the masked marauders with a steel jaw and a shotgun, guarding life and limb and, of course, family in The Purge.
The year of release was 2013, you query, six years back, hardly contemporary? So what? It's still the template for nonsense and you can link in the utterly flat The Conjuring - also 2013, it was a good year for bad films - and all its successors.
So, there’s your schlock horror and you can keep it. And here in Werewolf is an interesting Polish take on horror, an object lesson in how it might be done successfully. It would be more accurate to file Werewolf under 'historical (horror) thriller’ and forget the schlock bit, although there is a modicum of schlock herein. But it’s restrained.
Crucially, writer-director Adrian Panek has found his source material in Poland’s troubled twentieth century history. He could have recoiled from anything to do with the Holocaust to make a horror film, but all the better that he did not desist.
Why is it superior to all of the above lazy, unthinking, brain-dead stuff, you may well ask your snooty reviewer? Because it grounds itself in credible historical detail. I kept thinking during the film how, despite its gory, macabre fascinations, there was hardly anything that might not have happened as historical fact.
Eight children flee a concentration camp as the Holocaust machine breaks down in 1945? Check. The exceedingly bloody corpse of a Nazi killer festers in the woods while flies buzz around him? Entirely feasible.
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The teenagers and younger youngsters end up left to their own devices in an abandoned mansion? Credible, might have happened.
Starving and suffering from extreme thirst, they find themselves effectively imprisoned when the mansion is besieged by SS dogs. These feral dogs have also escaped from the death camps and are trained to recognize the striped prison uniform and to attack anyone wearing it? Totally feasible. So the story is convincing as something to predicate a film on and that gives it immense credibility, no matter how scary and creepy it gets (and it does.)
As one might expect in a film featuring a group of teenagers and younger children trying to stay alive, Werewolf strays into Lord of the Flies territory. There are natural leaders and natural bullies, and sadistic tendencies learned perhaps from the former Nazi captors.
Meanwhile, a begrudging sense of hard won mercy and a return to civilization take a while to wriggle out from under the frightening scenario, which comes as some relief after so much visceral terror.